By Jonathan Gang
Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Bob Weir’s Furthur brought their four-show Colorado run to a solid yet often underwhelming conclusion Sunday. Furthur was coming off a strong run of shows, including a Saturday concert that absolutely blew the roof off the Broomfield’s 1stBank Center.
The show opened fairly strong, with a crowd-pleasing first set that leaned toward higher energy rock songs like “Brown Eyed Women,” “Big Railroad Blues” and “Samson and Delilah.” However, the second set, where the meat of most Furthur shows tends to be found, showed flashes of inspiration while remaining an overall disappointment. There was a theme of mellower, laid back songs, including ballads like “Days Between” and “Lost Sailor” and slower performances of upbeat tunes like “Unbroken Chain” and “Eyes of the World.” Each might have worked individually in a more varied setting, but when taken together added up to a set that seemed less than the sum of its parts.
The centerpiece of the show came in the reliably interesting improvisational powerhouse Dark Star, which began with surprisingly off-kilter rhythmic interplay between the incredibly talented Joe Russo (the band’s drummer and secret weapon) and keyboardist Jeff Chimeti, but fizzled into an airy, aimless jam that seemed to barely hold the crowd’s attention. That song was preceded by bluegrassy “Workingman’s Dead” tune “Cumberland Blues,” by far the show’s tightest number, for which the band joined by fiddle player Jason Crosby.
Furthur occupies an interesting place among the litany of bands that have risen from the ashes over the years to carry on the legacy of the Grateful Dead. For four years now they have toured extensively with a solid, relatively stable lineup. It is a configuration that has lent itself both to tight interpretations of the Dead’s classic songbook and increasingly fresh and inventive explorations of the improvisational spaces between the songs.
The band’s willingness to experiment with new possibilities for the Dead’s music can be a blessing and a curse, leading to both unexpected yet inspiring successes and sloppy misfires. On Sunday night the results were somewhere in between, but tended toward the latter. However, at a time when many of their classic rock cotemporaries have spent decades recycling their hits into an endless nostalgia show, it’s encouraging to see Lesh, Weir and their younger cohorts shooting high, even when they fall short.
Jonathan Gang is a new contributor to Reverb.